Moon-Saturn conjunction, looking east, March 1,
at 9:00 p.m.
Looking southwest, March 15, at 8:00 p.m.
Save our skies
Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare. Shield all
your outside lights downward (or turn them off completely) and enjoy
the beautiful, starry night sky.
March 2007 night sky
On winter and spring starry nights, you can witness Orion doing
what he loves the most, hunting. With Canis Major, one of the sky’s
hunting dogs, nipping at its furry heals, Lepus, the Hare is trying
to speed past Orion in the night sky. Fortunately, Orion has his
bow drawn and has his sights set on Taurus, the Bull.
You can find the Hare just at the feet of Orion, below Saiph and
Rigel in the southwestern sky at about 8 p.m. Canus Major is the
constellation to the left and Enidanus is to the right. Some say
this is the perfect hiding place for the hare to stay out of the
There are several versions for the origins of Lepus around the
world. According to one story, Orion, the famous hunter, loved to
hunt hares, and so Lepus was placed in the sky for Orion's amusement.
In other cultures, the hare often symbolized the Moon, a gently
shining, traditionally feminine divinity often representative of
fertility. The hare, according to Herodotus, could conceive while
still pregnant. With the hare as the Moon and the eagle, Aquila,
representing the sun, it is interesting that when Lepus rises in
the east, Aquila is setting in the west.
The Arabs believed that the four brightest stars in Lepus represented
four camels drinking from the river Eridanus, another nearby constellation,
while early Egyptians believed Lepus to be the boat of Osiris. In
India, it is believed that Buddha, before reaching enlightenment
and in his incarnation as Sakyamuni the hare, met with Indra. Indra
was disguised as a beggar when he met Buddha and his companions,
a monkey and a fox. Putting the three to a test, Indra asked for
something to eat. The hare found nothing appropriate, but built
a fire and threw himself into the flames to offer as food to the
beggar. In thanks for his sacrifice and hospitality, Indra placed
the hare in the heavens.
The Greeks believe the stars were placed in the sky in honor of
the plague of hares brought upon the people of the island of Leros.
After a pregnant hare was imported to the island to bring sport
and food, the animals began breeding beyond control and soon led
to an infestation never before seen. Following the extermination
of the hare from the island, the gods placed the hare in the stars
as a reminder to man. Lepus occasionally represents the favored
animal of the hunter Orion.
The alpha, or brightest star, in Lepus is Arneb, a supergiant,
about 1,300 light-years away and 13,000 times brighter than the
sun, shining at a magnitude of 2.6.
The beta star is Nihal, a yellow 2.8 magnitude star, about 160
light-years away. It is similar, but three times larger and 160
time brighter than our sun. Because of its size, it is aging more
rapidly and in about a million years, it will brighten significantly
as it changes from fusing hydrogen to helium to fusing helium to
The third brightest, or gama star, is to the left of Nihal. It
has a magnitude of 3.6 and is about 29 light-years distant. The
star is a wide double. The companion star is a magnitude of 6.18,
so binoculars are needed to really see this pair. There is a good
color contrast between the pair, which are described as yellow and
Get out the telescopes for this star, R Lepus, or Hind's Crimson
Star. This star is a famous long period pulsating red variable.
The magnitude ranges from 5.9 to 11 over a period of 432 days. At
times, the star has been known to reach naked eye visibility in
really dark skies, but this would be very rare. It lies around 1,500
light-years from earth, and is quite possibly the reddest star in
the night sky. The color of the star is an intense smoky red, and
it has been reputed to be the most beautiful star in the sky. Many
observers say it is reddest at minimum brightness.
THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury will be tough to spot as it becomes a morning star
low on the eastern horizon before sunrise.
• Venus will be easy to spot, glowing brightly in the western
sky after sunset. Look for a Moon-Venus conjunction on the 21st.
• Get up early to find Mars. It rises around 4:30 a.m.
• Jupiter rises around 1 a.m. this month. Look for a Moon-Jupiter
conjunction on March 11. The bright star to the right of the Moon
is Antares, in Scorpius.
• Saturn is up all night. On March 1, look for a Saturn-Moon
conjunction about an hour after sunset. And again, the Moon and
Saturn join together two hours after sunset on the 28th.
• The Moon is full on March 3rd, when there will be a total
lunar eclipse from the eastern US. Unfortunately, in New Mexico,
we will only see the tail end of the event at moonrise. It will
not really be worth looking.
• The Moon will be new on the 18th, with a partial solar eclipse
(87 percent) happening in Asia and Alaska.
• Daylight Saving Time starts this year on March 11th.
Happy Spring! The Vernal Equinox, when the Sun crosses the equator
heading north, happens at 7:09 p.m. MDT.
If you have a question or comment for Charlie, you may e-mail him,